When it comes to engineering, no one knows the ins and outs better than the subject matter experts themselves – The University of Alabama in Huntsville’s College of Engineering professors, who are responsible for educating the next generation of engineers.
The Redstone Rocket asked UAH professors to explain the basics of their profession. Here’s what they had to say.
Name: Michael D. Anderson, Ph.D.
Department: Civil and environmental engineering
Title: Associate dean for Graduate Education and professor, transportation engineering
How would you describe civil and environmental engineering in layman’s terms?
Civil and environmental engineering deals with essential aspect of human life related to having the infrastructure necessary to carry out one’s daily life. Civil and environmental engineers make sure you have clean air and water, the buildings you enter are safe, items you wish to purchase are in stores, places you need to go are accessible, and rivers you need to cross have bridges. They are responsible for the infrastructure around you that allows you to complete your daily activities.
How does civil and environmental engineering impact the average person’s daily life?
Generally, civil and environmental engineering impacts a person’s daily life throughout the day. From your morning shower, where you don’t have to question the quality of the water, to the roadways and traffic control that get you safely to school or to a store to purchase goods brought in from around the world, to the buildings you enter without fear of collapse. Throughout the day, any part of the infrastructure you do not have to worry about is due to a Civil and Environmental engineer.
What are some of the more well-known products and developments that have come about as a result of civil and environmental engineering?
Obviously, the main things people think about when they think of civil and environmental engineering products are bridges and structures – the Golden Gate Bridge, One World Trade Center Building, the Hoover Dam. These are the big items that get the most attention, although most projects are on a much smaller scale and not noticed by the general public unless there is an issue.
Where would the world be without civil and environmental engineering?
Without civil and environmental engineers the world would be similar to 5,000 years ago with people living out of caves and hunting and scavenging for food.
What advice would you give to students wanting to pursue civil and environmental engineering?
Focus on math and science as a solid foundation for engineering work, but understand the importance of the social sciences because the things civil and environmental engineers design and build will have a human component and will be used by people throughout their daily life.
Name: Bryan Mesmer, Ph.D.
Department: Industrial and systems engineering
Title: Assistant professor
How would you describe industrial and systems engineering in layman’s terms?
Systems engineering is the study of highly interrelated components that are combined together to form a highly complex whole that can do things the components themselves cannot. Systems engineering has a broad range of focus points, from how we go about designing these products, to how people in multiple organizations communicate about the product, to allocation of resources and the development of models. Systems engineering is the discipline where all other engineering disciplines, as well as social sciences, political science, business and others, converge.
What are some of the more well-known products and developments that have come about as a result of industrial and systems engineering?
You are surrounded by products that came about thanks to systems engineering. The car you drove to work in, the road system that car drove on, the telecommunication network you use to check your emails, are all examples of complex systems. Systems engineers are involved in complex products both small, such as your smartphone, to enormous, such as the air transportation system.
Where would the world be without industrial and systems engineering?
Without systems engineering the world’s progress would be impeded. Systems engineering facilitates the communication between different disciplines and enables and improves interactions between different components of a large system. Without the approaches of systems engineering, the ability to design useful complex systems would be extremely difficult. It is because of systems engineering that we reached the moon, that we can travel across oceans,that we can communicate to the far reaches of the globe in milliseconds. Without systems engineering our world would indeed look different.
What advice would you give to students wanting to pursue industrial and systems engineering?
Systems engineering is unlike any other engineering discipline. It is a melting pot of individuals from all disciplines coming together to understand how to create these complex, multidiscipline systems. A systems engineer needs to be ready to learn, to embrace the non-traditional, to think in ways that contradict their previous education. Here at UAH we have some of the nation’s best system minds, both in faculty and in the student population, pushing the discipline forward to uncharted territories. The field is quickly growing and offers many opportunities to both the young and the experienced engineers.
Name: Yu Lei, Ph.D.
Department: Chemical and materials engineering
Title: Assistant professor
How would you describe chemical and materials engineering in layman’s terms?
Chemical engineering is the study and practice of translating lab-scale chemical processes into industrial-scale, commercial production of valuable products. These transformations are the centerpieces of the chemical, petroleum, pharmaceutical, electronic and environmental industries.
How does chemical and materials engineering impact the average person’s daily life?
Chemical engineering is making impacts on a wide range of aspects in the society including food, clean water, energy, health and the environment.
What are some of the more well-known products and developments that have come about as a result of chemical and materials engineering?
Too many – just to give a few samples here: synthetic fibers that make clothes more comfortable and waterproof; bio-compatible materials for implants; efficient and affordable medicines; catalytic converters that remove toxic chemicals and soots from the vehicle and power plant exhausts.
Where would the world be without chemical and materials engineering?
Some of my students joked the “Stone Age!” Well, it is fair to say, without the contributions from chemical engineering, most of the products we know about, from dishwasher detergent to plastics to lubricants to fertilizers to medicines, would not meet our daily needs.
What advice would you give to students wanting to pursue chemical and materials engineering?
A well-trained chemical engineer has technical knowledge of math, chemistry, physics, biology, engineering and knows about economics, management, safety and environment. It can easily be one of the hardest majors. For the same reason, chemical engineers have many exciting career opportunities. If you have the passion and desire to improve the human condition and to create new and exciting products, then chemical engineering is for you.